Messieurs les ronds-de-cuir

Year: 1927

Author: Georges Courteline (1858 - 1929)

Artist: Sem (1863 - 1934)

Publisher: Javal et Bourdeaux, éditeurs

Messieurs les ronds-de-cuir, title page

Like his father Julies Moineaux, Georges Victor Marcel Moineaux became known as a writer of humorous work, under the pseudonym of Georges Courteline. Moineaux senior arranged an easy job for his son through his contacts, and so Georges became an office clerk at the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Courteline discovered the wondrous world of the civil service with some surprise. His work consisted of copying policy documents and reports; he copied down 4000 pages a year. This drudgery failed to inspire him to exert himself for promotion. It did provide him with the material for a novel and a play: Messieurs les ronds-de-cuir from 1983 is a humorous tale of annoying characters and dizzying regulations in the offices of ministries.

Merciless caricatures by Sem

Courteline sketched out familiar types in his novels. He was always mocking the lower middle class, which made his work highly suitable for cartoonish illustrations. One of the best-known practitioners of this genre was a friend of Courteline's: Sem, alias Georges Goursat. Sem began his career as a draughtsman in his native province Dordogne, but travelled to Paris with Jean Lorrain around the turn of the century. Sem's first album Turf appeared in 1909 to enormous success, instantly making his style famous. After producing twenty-odd album of his own, this member of the Salon des Humoristes also worked for magazines such as Le figaro, Le rire, and Le cri de Paris. His impressions of Paris have come to typify the fin de siècle.

Publisher Javal and Bourdieux, active since 1926, published a deluxe limited edition of Courteline's Messieurs les ronds-de-cuir in 1927. Sem produced fifteen colourful aquarelles for it, which were printed in facsimile. The artist did not excel at drawing good likenesses in his portraits, but he always managed to capture the characteristic features of any face: politicians, writers and actors were the victims – whether they wanted to or not – of his sharp pen. The civil servants in these illustrations remain anonymous, but laziness, clumsiness and smugness are of all ages. The text and illustrations form a merciless caricature of bureaucratic customs around 1900.

Bibliographical description

Description: Messieurs les ronds-de-cuir / de G. Courteline ; 15 aquarelles de Sem. - Paris : Javal et Bourdeaux, éditeurs, 1927. – vi, 152 p. : ill. ; 33 cm

1st edition: 1893

Printer: Robert Coulouma (Argenteuil) (tekst) Daniel Jacomet et Cie (illustraties)

Edition: 590 copies

This copy: Number 568 of 500 (numbered 91 to 590) on Arches

Bibliography: Bénézit 12-662/663 ; Carteret IV-125 ; Mahé I-600 ; Monod 3244

Shelfmark: KW Koopm A 11


  • Emmanuel Haymann, Courteline. Paris, Flammarion, 1990
  • Léon Gauthier, Jean Lorrain: La vie, l’oeuvre et l’art d’un pessimiste à la fin du XIX siècle. Paris, Lesot, 1935
  • Gérald Schurr, Les petits maîtres de la peinture: Valeur de demain, 1820-1920. Paris, Éditions de l’Amateur, 1976